Erik Larson

Feb 12, 2009

It Begs the Question

The other day I heard an expert on MSNBC talking about Afghanistan (or was it Iraq?), and at some point he offered that such and such begs the question of whether we should do such and such (as you can tell, I can’t remember the details of the discussion).

As a philosopher, this use of begs the question is annoying. Begging the question as even an undergraduate student in argument or logic will know, means assuming what you are attempting to prove. The classic example is the ditty about knowing the Bible is the word of God because it says so. In the modern context, we can beg the question about troop levels in Afghanistan by first assuming that they should be higher and then concluding so. Or what have you.

What our expert meant to say was that such and such raises the question . Suggesting or raising questions is what circumstances and observations do. Begging questions is much less common, and must by necessity involve some circular reasoning. So, to the pundits and smart people out there and just to everyone, stop begging the question when you’re just raising one.